RECOGNISED: Well-known sports commentator, journalist and Valla Beach resident Debbie Spillane is a recipient of the 2016 Medal of the Order of Australia.
RECOGNISED: Well-known sports commentator, journalist and Valla Beach resident Debbie Spillane is a recipient of the 2016 Medal of the Order of Australia. David Barwell

Top honour for sport broadcaster and role model

A WELL known voice of sport broadcasting for more than three decades has been honoured with one of Australia's highest honours.

Valla Beach resident Debbie Spillane was recognised at this week's Queen Birthday Honours with a Medal of the Order of Australia.

It honours Debbie's contribution to the media, including becoming the first female sport commentator hired by the ABC.

It also marks the end of a chapter for Debbie, who recently retired to the Coffs Coast from Sydney to be closer to family.

Debbie said sport had always played a part in her life, but it was a career she had "fallen into by accident".

"I grew up in a sports-mad family and I've been talking about rugby league, cricket and horse-racing since I was sitting around the dinner table as a primary school kid," she said.

"I think because I wasn't much of an achiever on the sports field myself, I made up for it by being a commentator."

After university, Debbie said she struggled to find a cadetship at the ABC or print media, and decided to instead follow her other passion - music.

It was in this period - while performing in bands and running a record shop - that Debbie got her break into broadcasting.

"2GB were running a competition that was looking for a news sports journalist so I thought - what the hell I'll have a go," she said.

"I was short listed and because I was the only woman who made it that far they offered me a part-time job".

Six months later, the ABC was on the look-out for its first full-time female sports commentator and Debbie applied.

"It's quite laughable now but the two minutes I had each day on 2GB was more experience than any other woman at the time," she said.

Weeks after securing the job, Debbie was on a plane to report on the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles.

Since then, Debbie has forged an extensive career in the industry, including presenting ABC NewsRadio and Grandstand Sport.

Highlights include a three-year stint hosting triple j's drive time program Hard Coffee where she interviewed Paul McCartney and Keith Richards.

She said progress had been made for women in the industry, but change was slow.

"For a long time it seemed women coming into sport were only being allowed in at basic positions and there weren't many building careers," she said.

"It's only been in the last few years that women are given opportunities to not only read the sport, but analyse and dissect it."

Debbie said receiving the Order of Australia Medal was a special honour.

"To me sport is live theatre and there's so much unscripted drama once you learn to appreciate it," she said.

"I said to my friends - 'having not been good at sports (the OAM) is my podium finish," she laughed.

Her advice to young women looking to start out in the industry was to embrace opportunity.

"I think particularly for women it's important to work on your credibility and make sure people are listening to you," she said.

"In the industry there's a lot of luck involved but it's important to just stay really flexible and grab whatever opportunity comes."